“His administration may have drafted a Russia policy through the interagency process,” said Michael A. McFaul, a former American ambassador to Russia, “but Trump seems completely disconnected from it, like he seems to be on many foreign policies.”
Administration officials and diplomats say foreign governments have learned to discount many of Mr. Trump’s tweets, particularly those clearly aimed at spinning up his political base or goading foreign adversaries. But they acknowledge it is hard to decide what to ignore and what to take seriously.
Mr. Trump drew chuckles with his tweets last year about sitting down to make a deal with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Now, White House aides are planning a summit meeting for the two men.
Mr. McFaul said Mr. Putin would find things to like and dislike in Mr. Trump’s three Russia-related tweets on Wednesday morning. Mr. Putin would bridle at Mr. Trump’s threat to send “nice and new and ‘smart’” missiles to Syria, where they could hit Russian forces, not to mention his assertion that the relationship “is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.”
But Mr. McFaul said Mr. Putin would welcome Mr. Trump’s odd claim that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is fomenting anti-Russian sentiment in the United States.
More than anything, however, Mr. McFaul said the Russians would view Mr. Trump’s scattershot approach as weakness.
“My sense is that the Kremlin has given up on their previous hope that Trump might repair relations because he is not focused and not in control of foreign policy making,” he said.
On Syria, Mr. Trump’s promise of a coming missile strike not only violated his own promise never to predict such action — it also put him ahead of America’s allies. While France has been steadfast in its support for strikes, the British government is still deliberating. The administration, officials said, would like its allies to be part of a united front.
As a practical matter, Mr. Trump’s foreshadowing might enable Mr. Assad to move some aircraft to get them out of the way of a missile strike. But analysts said any such movement would not alter the outcome, given the military superiority of the United States.
“We can pick off his equipment at will,” said Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The lack of swift action after Mr. Trump’s tweet, however, could add to the perception of a White House not in sync. It comes after a week in which the president at first pushed for a rapid withdrawal of American troops from Syria — only to later acquiesce grudgingly to his generals, who argued that the troops should remain in the country for a few more months to train local forces and stabilize Syrian towns liberated from the Islamic State.
The president seemed similarly confused last week when he blamed his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the Syrian government’s suspected gas attack in the Damascus suburb.
“If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand,” Mr. Trump tweeted, “the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”
It was Mr. Assad, not Mr. Obama, who crossed the president’s red line by using chemical weapons in 2013. Mr. Obama shelved a missile strike against Syria for that, earning widespread criticism from those who said it emboldened both Mr. Assad and the Russians.
If Mr. Trump’s words on Syria have been tougher than his actions, it is the reverse with China. The administration has met China, tariff-for-tariff, in their trade confrontation. Officials like Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, and Peter Navarro, the director of the White House National Trade Council, seem committed to a long battle.
But Mr. Trump has seized on any sign of conciliation from the Chinese. When Mr. Xi promised in his speech to relax restrictions on financial services, protect intellectual property and open up foreign investment in the auto industry, Mr. Trump thanked him on Twitter for his “kind words on tariffs and automobile barriers … also, his enlightenment on intellectual property and technology transfers.”
Mr. Xi’s tone was solicitous, to be sure. But China experts said his proposals broke little new ground and were familiar from trade negotiations conducted during the Obama administration. Those are the same talks that Mr. Trump and his aides say produced nothing for American companies, and opened Mr. Trump up to the same charge he has leveled against his predecessors — that they swallowed Beijing’s empty promises.
“Trump’s tweet suggested he is willing to take a quarter of a loaf,” said Evan S. Medeiros, who served as a China adviser to Mr. Obama. “Was he trying to set up space to declare victory? Because I can’t imagine the China hawks or the trade hawks accepting that.”
News credit : Nytimes